As the Queen prepares to mark her 60th year on the throne, Roz Laws discovers some of the highlights for former Royal correspondent Jennie Bond.
From watching Nelson Mandela do an excited jig to having to break a promise to her daughter, the Royal family has provided Jennie Bond with plenty of memorable moments.
As the BBC’s Royal correspondent, she spent 14 years flying around the world with the Queen and the Royal Family and reporting on their eventful lives.
Now, as she prepares to celebrate 60 years of the Queen’s reign by hosting a Diamond Jubilee concert at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, Jennie has been remembering some of the key moments of her time with the royals.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have a front row seat at some of the major events of the Queen’s reign,” says Jennie, 61.
“Her visit to South Africa in 1995 was a delightful moment in history. I’ll never forget standing on the quayside in Cape Town on a sunny morning as Britannia sailed into view.
“Nelson Mandela was like a school kid, jigging around in excitement as he waited to welcome the Queen back to South Africa for the first time in almost 50 years. And, at a reception on board the royal yacht the next day, the Queen herself told me how excited she was to see Africa again.”
Not all the stories on which Jennie reported were so happy, though.
“The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, was one of the biggest news stories of the decade,” remembers Jennie, who studied French and European literature at Warwick University.
“When the news broke, in the early hours of August 31, 1997, I was at our holiday home in Devon and had rashly promised our little girl, Emma, that she had her mum for a whole fortnight.
“It was a hard lesson to learn. Never promise your child anything when you are a Royal correspondent, at the beck and call of the office 24/7.
“The 250-mile drive to London was fraught, with news coming in first that the Princess had survived, and then the rumours that she was dead gathered pace. The following week brought something akin to mass hysteria as the crowds mourned the loss of Diana.
“In all my years of royal reporting, nothing could rival the extraordinary events of five years earlier, in 1992. One after another, major stories broke about various members of the Royal family including the announcement that Charles and Diana were separating, as did Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew. Windsor Castle was ravaged by fire and the Queen made her poignant ‘annus horribilis’ speech at London’s Guildhall.
“It all added up to a frantic year.”
There were, though, some lighter moments for Jennie, including attending several garden parties at Buckingham Palace.
“There’s nothing quite so elegant or guaranteed to make you feel special than being at one of these events,” she recalls.
“Everything is very well ordered, the rows of tents along one side of the gardens provide a classy buffet – tables laden with tiny cakes, perfectly shaped sandwiches, fine china teacups with the palace’s special brew.
“You don’t always get to meet the Queen, but you can certainly get a close-up look, and the chances of a chat with at least one member of the Royal family are pretty good. It’s certainly one of those occasions when everyone is on their very best behaviour and all leave with a smile on their face and a tale to impress their friends.”
Jennie is looking forward to the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and believes they can surpass those of a decade ago.
“That year, 2002, was momentous as it began with the death of Princess Margaret, rapidly followed by the Queen Mother and then the Golden Jubilee celebrations. It was obviously a difficult corner for the Queen to turn but she went ahead with the Jubilee schedule.
“For Royal correspondents like me, it was a desperately busy year, but how fantastic it was to see the doom-mongers proved wrong; those who had said the celebrations would be a damp squib.
“In June, as the palace rocked to one of the best pop concerts ever staged, a million people turned out to cheer the Queen and mark her 50 years on the throne. It was a great time to report on royalty.
“I have every hope and belief that this Diamond Jubilee will be even more successful than the Golden celebrations.”
Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne on February 6, 1952.
The music for A Celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert is provided by the London Concert Orchestra, with guest singers Rosemary Squires and James Graeme and piper Steve McGuinness.
Conductor Gavin Sutherland will lead the orchestra through a celebratory programme of suitably patriotic and stirring works, including Land of Hope and Glory, There’ll Always Be An England, Men of Harlech, Calling All Workers, Life On The Ocean Wave, Coronation Scot, Scotland The Brave and Jerusalem.
There will also be music from favourite TV and radio shows such as Last Of The Summer Wine, Dad’s Army, Morecambe and Wise, The Archers and Coronation Street. And there will be a tribute to musical stars who have appeared on the Honours List, from Sir Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday to Sir Paul McCartney’s Hey Jude.
Jennie adds: “This will be a great way to celebrate a momentous time in a nostalgic journey through 60 glorious years of music and song. I look forward to sharing the experience.”
* A Celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert comes to Birmingham Symphony Hall on Saturday, February 11. For tickets, ring 0121 780 3333 or go to www.raymondgubbay.co.uk